Thursday, March 17, 2016

Quotation from J. K. Rowling - From Her Book (Harvard Commencement Speech) VERY GOOD LIVES

Ryan Petty

There’s been a spate of commencement addresses, repackaged and sold as hardcover gift books. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

The best of them are inspiring, as they should be. Certainly, this includes VERY GOOD LIVES: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination (Little, Brown and Company, 2015).

There are two things I got out of reading this repackaged speech: 

The biographical detail that, prior to writing HARRY POTTER, J. K. Rowling worked for Amnesty International at its London headquarters; and

The quotation you will find below.

Though the conceit that failure is a mile-marker on the road to success has become shopworn, it may have been less so in 2008, when J. K. Rowling stood before the assembled graduates of Harvard and said what she came to say.

In any event, it’s J. K. Rowling we’re talking about and she handles her subject as ably as you would expect - particularly the part about the importance of the imagination.

Which is where I found my favorite quote:

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.”

J. K. Rowling has demonstrated her capacity to do this. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

George Orwell on the Losses We Suffer from Pretentious, Unexamined Phrasing

Ryan Petty

George Orwell’s posthumous collection of essays, WHY I WRITE, is a marvel, published by Penguin Books in its Great Ideas series. 

Here’s a passage I marked from the title essay, along with others for return reading:

“It is easier - even quicker, once you have the habit - to say In my opinion it is a not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry - when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech - it is natural to fall into a pretentious, latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.”

-George Orwell